Summary: A Post Resurrection appearance of Jesus that mirrors the gospel and invites us to follow him
The 21st chapter of John’s Gospel is one of the strangest and most mysterious chapters in the gospel. It is such that, if this chapter didn’t exist at the end of John’s Gospel (and you only had chapters 1 to 20) there is no way under heaven that you guess that it existed! You would never read the gospel, get to the end of chapter 20 and say to yourself: ‘Hey! There’s something missing here!’
Let’s consider the ending as recorded in the last chapters of John: Jesus has risen; he’s appeared to Mary and to the others in the upper room that Easter Day. A week later he appears again to the disciples, this time when Thomas is present so that he can see for himself that Jesus is alive – Thomas makes that wonderful affirmation of faith: ‘My Lord and my God!’
And then comes chapter 21. In those first 14 verses that we are considering its as though the whole of the gospel is retold in double quick time – only this time its not Jesus from Nazareth who is the central character, but rather Jesus, the Lord – the risen and glorified one.
He’s not the ‘Good Friday Jesus’, he’s the ‘Easter Jesus’
He’s the Jesus we know, the one who encountered Saul on the road to Damascus, who encountered you and me somewhere along our life journey; who has encountered every blessed believer who has not seen him, yet puts their faith in him.
It’s the Jesus who you don’t recognize at first and yet you know with the utmost certainty that it is him.
Chapter 21 begins with the word: ‘Afterwards’ (NIV)
After all these things that are recorded about the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth took place. All these things that have been recorded in this Gospel so that readers might know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing they may have life in his name.
Now begins another story – but it’s the same old story – a story where suddenly we’re central characters because this Jesus is the Jesus who is alive again and steps out of the pages of the book to find us. This story is our story.
Remember that its afterwards but it also the beginning. And it begins with fishermen. The gospel always begins with ordinary folk. We know them all by name now because we got to share some of their earlier experiences of Jesus. There’s Simon – always named first, except that we know he is also Peter the Rock but the failed leader of the band. He leads them back into the life they knew before Jesus met them. And there’s Thomas – O, how we all know the doubts that this disciple verbalized! Do you remember Nathanael – John tells us it’s the Nathanael from Cana in Galilee.
Nathanael was the first to profess great faith in Jesus. When Philip invited him to come and meet the one of whom Moses wrote in the Law he declared: ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Yet on meeting Jesus he was able to say: ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.’ And Cana was the place where Jesus performed his first sign – the turning of water into wine. There were some places where Jesus did not perform miracles because of their unbelief or lack of faith. Cana certainly wasn’t such a place. We’re told that he was there that evening – altogether seven of the disciples.
And what would the gospel be without the Sea of Galilee? This inland lake helps to establish the gospel in time and space. When you visit the Holy Land today you will be taken to and shown many ancient sites. In Bethlehem you will be shown a cave under a church that is purported to be the place where Jesus was born; outside the old city of Jerusalem you will be shown a ‘Garden Tomb’ where Jesus was buried, while others claim that the tomb is in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City. The only thing one might be sure of is that somewhere in the vicinity of these sites Jesus of Nazareth walked and ministered and died and rose again.
But when you stand on the shores of the Sea of Galilee you know with every certainty: this is the place where Jesus called Simon and Andrew, Where he sat with his disciples, where he stilled the storm, where Peter walked on water. The Sea of Galilee remains the same. It puts us in touch with those ancient stories of a wandering rabbi called Jesus who changed the course of the history of this world.
And there is darkness. This is the state of humanity without Christ. They set out in the darkness, now doing what they were doing when they first met Jesus – fishing. They were fishing in the dark because they believed that this was the best time to catch fish. They had given up fishing in order to follow the ‘Light of the World’ but now this light had gone out and they returned to what they were used to doing in the darkness.